After the most successful run in the 131-year history of the franchise, the Phillies have begun the sad process of scripting dignified endings for the heroes of that era. So far, it is not going well.
Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking. Thanks to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and manager Ryne Sandberg, the Phils’ second-best home-run hitter of all time spent a week that ended with the first real display of anger in his decade on the team.
Meanwhile, trade rumors have been rippling through baseball for weeks now about Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels, with Amaro dousing and then refueling the speculation with nonsensical comments.
If this is really the best they can do, the entire management team should leave right along with these aging players — including overly sentimental president Dave Montgomery, a never-more-clueless Amaro and a double-talking Sandberg.
The handling of Howard’s demotion was symbolic of the ineptitude of the so-called brain trust running the Phillies right now. First, Sandberg benched Howard against lefties, then the slumping slugger remained out of the lineup against a right-handed pitcher, Tim Hudson, and finally the proud first baseman snapped.
When reporters approached the normally unflappable Howard after the Hudson benching, he barked, “Talk to him,” and pointed at Sandberg’s office. After hitting his first home run in two months at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday, Howard played the victim again, asking reporters if they wanted to trade places with him.
Despite his suddenly bitter demeanor, Howard deserves a far better exit than this. The latest reports — by Jayson Stark of ESPN, who has covered the team for three decades — are that the Phils are begging American League teams to take Howard before the trade deadline.
Of course, Amaro has been denying everything. Even though Howard has not been starting against lefties for weeks now, the GM claims there is no platoon. Even though rumors have been swirling for weeks, there have been no substantive trade talks with other teams. Blah, blah, blah. It is all shameless bull.
And so are the constantly conflicting remarks Amaro has been making about the other recent Phillies heroes. Oh, it’s probably true they wouldn’t trade Utley, since the city loves the guy. But Rollins and the other aging veterans are eminently available, for a bargain-basement price. The problem is, most have untradeable contracts thanks to Amaro.
The 2008 Phillies will always have a place next to their 1980 counterparts as our most-beloved baseball teams because they won the World Series. What the fans should not have to endure is the clumsy dissolution of a thrilling era. The past week was undignified, for that team and their loyal fans. They deserve better than this.
Idle thoughts …
»If these are Jonathan Papelbon’s final days as a Phillie, he is leaving the way all mercenaries do — with no dignity. Last week, the closer wouldn’t speak after blowing one save, and said he really enjoyed the thunderous boos after a second clunker. There are bigger problems than Papelbon on the Phils. But there is no bigger jackass.
»Ruben Amaro’s obsession with Phillippe Aumont is getting embarrassing. The GM called up the wild, inept reliever again last week. “Maybe the fifth time’s the charm,” Amaro said. And he was serious.
»Tony Dungy is the most sanctimonious man in sports, but the ex-coach was unfairly criticized last week for saying he wouldn’t have drafted the first outwardly gay NFL player, Michael Sam, because it would be too much of a distraction. What should Dungy have done, lied? If you might not like the answer, don’t ask the question.
»When Pierre Jackson ruptured his Achilles tendon in his first NBA Summer League appearance on July 5, he became the perfect Sixer. He is 22 and unable to play at all next season. GM Sam Hinkie must have been turning cartwheels when he signed Jackson to a new contract last week.
»Joel Embiid will not be playing in his rookie season with the Sixers, but he has already displayed an uncanny talent for tweeting. The injured top draft pick has made public plays for Kim Kardashian and Rihanna, with hilarious results. Is it too soon to say Embiid’s tweets are going to be far more entertaining than his team?